Apple's annual self-promotion event gets huge attention, with media and users swooning deeply, in the apparent ecstasy of the moment. This year's was no exception. But what Apple revealed felt quite hollow and uncomplying.
Regular readers know that I typically prefer Apple products for their high build quality and superior user experience. But I realized after watching the parade of purported revolutions that not one of the new Apple products -- not the Apple Watch in new colors, not the new iPhones with the 3D Touch screen, not the gargantuan iPad Pro, and not the voice-controlled Apple TV -- made me think "I have to have that." It's been years since I've come to a similar conclusion.
Thus, my Christmas wishlist -- and my planned gifts for others -- won't include Apple products this year. None is special enough nor cool enough to get my holiday dollars.
Don't get me wrong: Other than the iPad Pro, whose basic concept I have serious doubts about, there's nothing bad about the new iPhones, Apple TV, or Apple Watches. However, none moves the needle in interesting, compelling ways.
Last year, I found the Apple Watch to be intriguing, though I wasn't sure if it would be all that necessary. But I wanted to find out for myself. (The result: It's fine, less useful than I would have hoped but not annoying like its Android competitors.)
I don't feel too intrigued about the only majorly updated product in Apple's fall 2015 lineup: the Apple TV. I'm not a gamer, so a large facet of the new home entertainment box has no appeal to me. That's my issue, not Apple's. I'm "meh" about the Siri voice control -- talking to devices leaves me frustrated more often than it should, but I see the value in some circumstances, and I use Siri on my iPhone and Apple Watch at times. But I find the use of voice interfaces to be rude in public environments like office space, trains, and living rooms because they impose on others around you.
Voice issue aside, finding programs on Netflix and iTunes is not a burden. Well, using Netflix on an iOS device is a burden due to the Netflix app's poor UI, so I tend to preload Netflix selections on my computer instead. From what little Apple demoed this week, it doesn't look like the new Apple TV addresses the poor Netflix UI.
The Apple TV touchpad looks to be more convenient than the previous models' remote, but not worth the $150 or $200 price tag. My old Apple TV is in no danger of being dislodged.
iPhone 6s and iPhone 6s Plus
The new iPhones have even less going for them. Sure, if you have an iPhone 5 or older iPhone and want a larger device, why not get the iPhone 6s or iPhone 6s Plus? But much of what the new devices bring to the table is the same stuff everyone else is doing: 4K video recording and more megapixels in the camera. We're now in numbers-for-numbers-sake territory.
The one innovation in the new iPhones is the 3D Touch screen, which is a variation of the 12-inch MacBook's and Apple Watch's Force Touch. Basically, you tap press (rather than tap and hold or double-tap) to do the equivalent of right-clicking. Be still my heart!
Yes, there are interesting possibilities for the screen's pressure sensitivity; plus, beyond painting and music-playing, the subtle variations in pressure will confound most people, so apps will need to keep gestures simple and highly distinct for normal UI uses. That's why I don't think 3D Touch will have much everyday value. If my iPhone happened to have it, fine. But I wouldn't seek it out.
Then there's the iPad Pro, a direct ripoff of Microsoft's Surface Pro PC tablet. When equipped with the extra-cost keyboard cover and stylus, the iPad Pro costs as much as a 13-inch MacBook Air, but it does less.
I haven't had a chance to use the iPad Pro (it won't ship until around Thanksgiving), but based on using the similar (though slightly heavier) Samsung Galaxy Note Pro 12.2 I'm convinced it is not a tablet in the sense that you can use it on the go as you can other iPads and Android tablets. Its large screen means it will feel heavier than it is, especially in one-handed use, due to the greater implicit down-rotation pressure from its furthest edge relative to your hand.
The iPad Pro weighs a little more than the pre-Air iPad models (25.4 ounces versus 23.5 ounces), and if you have used those older iPads, you know how tiring they are to hold, especially with one hand. Add the greater downward rotation of the iPad Pro's larger screen, and you'll be hurting fast. At 28.2 ounces, the similarly sized Microsoft Surface Pro 3 has the same issues.
Thus, you'll need to use the iPad Pro two-handed and probably resting on a surface -- as you would a laptop. This goes double if you do what Apple recommends: Use a keyboard and stylus with it. Once you have those items, the weight is the same as a MacBook Air (about 2.3 pounds) -- and you need some place to put all that stuff. As with the Surface Pro, you have a deconstructed laptop, but a laptop nonetheless.
The Surface Pro at least runs the full Windows app ecosystem; the iPad Pro runs only iOS apps -- another reason to get a MacBook Air. Also, few Surface Pro owners use the Surface as a tablet, which should be a warning to Apple.
I'm sure Apple thinks the iPad is the future of its computing platform, and I can support that notion at some point. But it was very telling that Apple had no compelling apps to show on the iPad Pro. The big demo was Microsoft Office for tablets, which is a very good app but one that runs on everything these days. But it doesn't showcase the iPad Pro's touch, stylus, or other capabilities. I'd have thought that Apple's enterprise buddy IBM would be on stage showing something that you can do only -- or in an amazingly better way -- on an iPad Pro.
No "wowza" this year
That is the underlying reason none of Apple's new gadgets crack my Christmas list. What makes Apple special is that it really moves the needle on technology, not so much by inventing truly new technologies but by turning so-so technologies into amazing revelations. The Mac, iPod, iPhone, and iPad are all great examples of that. Even the Apple Watch is a technical tour de force, even if less revolutionary in its practical use.
If the iPad Pro took the Surface Pro to a new level, I'd be more open to it. But it doesn't. Likewise, the new Apple TV feels like an amalgam of (mostly failed) Google, Samsung, and Amazon devices, again without pushing the envelope.
Apple need not create such a game-changing product each time, but it usually brings in one or two incremental innovations that follow in that same "now it's amazing" spirit. Siri was an example, as were the MacBook trackpad and Magic Mouse. Then there are the better-mousetrap technologies like Apple Pay, the Touch ID sensor, and Handoff. Not to mention the 2011 iMac, a computer that is too pretty not to own.
"Wowza" technology enhancements, seductive aesthetics, or compelling user experiences -- I expect at least one of those each fall at Apple's big self-promotion event. This year, I got none.